By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
If you had asked someone 2,000 years ago what “eBay” means, he would have told you “it’s fruit.” Onkelos uses the word “ebay” many times in his translation of Bereishis. Nowadays, eBay is an Internet success story. In the first quarter of 2012, it reported revenues of $3.3 billion.
A question that has frequently been asked is whether one is allowed to bid on an item where the bidding for the item ends on Shabbos. To try to shed some light on this issue, we will examine how a certain problem was resolved 2,000 years ago in the Beis HaMikdash.
The first mishnah in Yoma records the requirement that the Kohen Gadol should be a married man while performing the Yom Kippur avodah. Rebbe Yehuda maintains that a backup wife was prepared in case his original wife died before the Yom Kippur Avodah. Tosfos (13b) explains that there is a difference of opinion between the Bavli and the Yerushalmi. The Bavli maintains that Rebbe Yehuda held that the Kohen Gadol actually married a second wife before Yom Kippur. This creates a whole new problem, as the Kohen Gadol can only be married to one wife while performing the Yom Kippur avodah. The Gemara discusses the solution to this new issue at length.
The Yerushalmi understands that Rebbe Yehuda simply mandated that a second wife be available for the Kohen Gadol. If the need arose, the Kohen Gadol would marry her on Yom Kippur itself. This understanding has a problem of its own. The Sages restricted marriage and other transactions from being performed on Shabbos and, by extension, Yom Kippur. Why then would the Kohen Gadol be allowed to marry a new wife on Yom Kippur? The Yerushalmi answers with the dictum “Ein shevus b’Mikdash.” Often the Sages decreed that their restrictions not be in effect in the Beis HaMikdash. So while other people would not be allowed to marry on Yom Kippur, the Kohen Gadol is permitted to do so.
Rebbe Akiva Eiger wonders why the Kohen Gadol didn’t simply marry the second wife on erev Yom Kippur with the stipulation that if his first wife died, the marriage would take effect on Yom Kippur. The benefit would be that the rabbinic decree of not marrying on Yom Kippur could still be fulfilled. Rebbe Akiva Eiger therefore concludes that even if there was no action performed on Yom Kippur itself, if the marriage is completed on Yom Kippur, the rabbinic decree would still be violated. Therefore, there is no advantage to performing the kiddushin ceremony on erev Yom Kippur. If the need arises, the Kohen Gadol will marry on Yom Kippur itself and rely on the fact that rabbinic decrees were relaxed in the Beis HaMikdash.
Rebbe Akiva Eiger’s conclusion has ramifications beyond Yom Kippur. Would one be allowed to purchase an item before Shabbos and stipulate that the sale only take effect on Shabbos? According to Rebbe Akiva Eiger, this would be forbidden.
Rebbe Akiva Eiger himself proves an opposing point of view from the Terumas HaDeshen. There is a mitzvah to redeem one’s firstborn son by giving a kohein the equivalent of five silver coins. We do not perform this mitzvah of pidyon ha’ben on Shabbos, because of the aforementioned restriction against transactions being completed on Shabbos. Can a father give a kohein five coins to redeem his firstborn on Friday with the stipulation that the kohein only acquire them on Shabbos?
The Terumas HaDeshen opines that technically this would be effective and permitted. However, the father would lose out on the berachah of pidyon ha’ben. He couldn’t make the berachah on Friday because the mitzvah wouldn’t be completed until the following day. He couldn’t recite the berachah on Shabbos because he wouldn’t actually be performing any action on Shabbos upon which to recite a berachah. Practically speaking, then, one should not employ this trick to redeem one’s firstborn on Shabbos and lose the opportunity to recite the appropriate berachah. However, it seems from the Terumas HaDeshen that theoretically this method would alleviate the concern of making transactions on Shabbos. Since the redemption transaction started on Friday, and no action was performed when it was completed on Shabbos, it would escape the rabbinic injunction. On the other hand, Rebbe Akiva Eiger would himself hold that this is forbidden.
This dispute has relevance to the question raised earlier. Is there a problem of bidding on an item where the bidding concludes on Shabbos? When you have the winning bid, eBay sends you an e-mail saying “Congratulations, you won!” or “Congratulations, it’s all yours!” Granted, no action was performed on Shabbos, but perhaps this is considered completing a transaction on Shabbos, which is forbidden. The bidder did not pay for the item yet, but the very fact that the seller and buyer cannot retract might qualify it as a restricted transaction that may not be completed on Shabbos. If the item went up in value after the bidding ended, the bidder would be the recipient of that benefit. In some regards, it does belong to the bidder. On the other hand, one could argue that this is worse than the situations mentioned above. There, the coins would have been given to the potential wife and the kohein during the week, with the stipulation that the transaction take place on Yom Kippur or Shabbos. In the case of the eBay sale, the transaction didn’t really start before Shabbos at all.
One well-regarded poseik in Brooklyn said that, according to the Terumas HaDeshen cited above, it would certainly be permitted. The Terumas HaDeshen permits a transaction to be concluded on Shabbos if no action is performed on Shabbos itself. The Mishnah Berurah paskens like the Terumas HaDeshen. Even according to Rebbe Akiva Eiger, he argued, perhaps since payment wasn’t made yet, it doesn’t qualify as a restricted transaction. He therefore concluded that one may be lenient.
However, another contemporary poseik disagreed, and said that one should not bid on an item if he knows the bidding will end on Shabbos. (A local rav cited support for this ruling by noting that Rashi, in a few places, refers to the fact that the buyer and seller cannot retract as constituting a bona fide transaction.)
There was a sefer, written by Rav Lichtenstein and distributed at the Internet asifah, “Internet b’halachah.” In that sefer, the author leans to the opinion that one should be stringent in this regard. In contrast, when the question was asked on Revach.net, Rav Peretz Moncharsh responded simply with “Yes, it is permitted.”
Until next week, I bid you Good Shabbos. v
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead and is a rebbi at Mesivta Kesser Yisroel of Willowbrook. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.